Q. My family is routinely shopping online. I have security concerns; what advice may BBB provide for shopping on the internet?
A. More than two-thirds of North America consumers shop online on a regular basis, and Better Business Bureau handles more than 10,000 complaints each year about internet shopping. Although you can't beat the convenience of getting what you need at the click of a button, all too often, consumers find what they ordered is not what they get. Worse, many websites are total scams that take your money and don't send a thing. Therefore, to your question; how can you be certain the websites where you shop are legitimate? BBB offers these tips:
Know the advertiser. Some of the best deals are only available online, but be careful. It's easy for a fake site to mimic a famous retailer's website, so make sure you are shopping with a legitimate site. Check out retailers at bbb.org before you shop.
Check a site's security settings. If the site is secure, its URL (web address) should start with "https://" and include a lock icon on the purchase or shopping cart page.
Be a savvy shopper. When shopping online, be sure to take your time, and read the fine print before submitting your order. Look for the return policy; although many online orders can be returned for a full refund, others have restocking fees. Some items cannot be returned; know before you buy.
Think before you click. Be especially cautious about email solicitations and online ads on social media sites. Many sketchy retailers advertise great deals or trendy clothing that doesn't measure up to the promotional hype.
Beware of too-good-to-be-true deals. Offers on websites and in unsolicited emails may offer free or very low prices on hard-to-find items. There may be hidden costs or your purchase may sign you up for a monthly charge. Look for and read the fine print.
Beware of phishing. Phishing emails can look like a message from a well-known brand, but clicking on unfamiliar links can place you at risk for malware and/or identity theft. One popular scam claims to be from a package-delivery company with links to "tracking information" on an order you don't remember making. Don't click!
Shop with a credit card. In case of a fraudulent transaction, a credit card provides additional protection; it's easier to dispute charges that you didn't approve. Debit cards, prepaid cards or gift cards don't have the same protections as a credit card.
Keep documentation of your order. Save a copy of the confirmation page or email confirmation until you receive the item and are satisfied. Be sure to know and understand the return policy and keep this documented with your purchase records.
Keep a clean machine. Install a firewall, anti-virus, and anti-spyware software. Check for and install the latest updates and run virus scans regularly on your computer, tablet, and smart phone.
Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga.